Step 6: Acceptance
The key to Step 6 is acceptance — accepting character defects exactly as they are and becoming
entirely willing to let them go.
Some web searches also define the Step 6 principle as Willingness. But, if I really think about it, I can never be truly willing to let it go unless I accept that I have it and accept it as it is, in all its wretched glory. I’ve seen people in recovery who accept that they have a certain character defect but they use that as an excuse for their continuing to do it. “One of my character defects is dishonesty, so I can’t be honest.” they’ll say. Well, that’s just an excuse for bad behavior. If I really accept my character defect as it is, then, to me, it means that I accept that it hurts people or it hurts me. If I know that, how can I, with the help of Step 3 which says that I am not doing my own will, continue to hold onto it. Of course, I could always say I accept whatever consequences come with that behavior, and I would be accepting it as it is. I guess that’s another valid way to work it.
Some of my character defects have payoffs for me. For instance, controlling behavior did enable me to feel a little peace when I was able to control a circumstance or a person. It always ended up backfiring, but I got a payoff when I felt in control of a situation and a little less afraid. And, often, I felt a little superior to the person or circumstance that I was trying to control. For someone with insecurity issues, that makes me feel better…..for the moment anyway. I used uncontrolled anger to control. That was a really hard one to drop. I accepted it with all its issues LONG before I became willing to let it go.
It finally got to the point that I hated my anger and its consequences. But, it was such an ingrained reaction that I had a hard time changing the behavior. I remember a therapist telling me once that “Anger is a good and natural feeling. When something makes you angry, step away, take a minute and ask yourself what it is about.” I remember laughing when she said that. I asked incredulously, “Oh, you mean I don’t just squash whatever person or thing is in front of me?” That just seemed impossible…..desirable, yes …but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. It got the best of me every time I got scared. Because, you see, my anger covered up my fear. I felt big and powerful and unable to feel my terror when I was yelling or giving the silent treatment. My anger said, “I won’t let you hurt me,” but my fear said, “you already have, and I am terrified to feel pain.”
When I really became willing to let it go and started focusing on getting in better relationships, setting boundaries in place that would protect me and processing my anger in other ways, it dissipated. I still get angry, of course, but I can take a step back and handle it the way I need to…..most of the time. And, after I took some time to clean out the crappy relationships in my life, I had less to fear, and, as a result, be angry about. You see, in the long run, my character defect of out of control anger was kept me from healthier, safer relationships. I had to take care of myself before I was entirely willing to let go of that protective barrier. It was a process that took a couple of years.
Part of the acceptance of this particular issue is that I have to realize that I don’t handle anger very well, and I can’t indulge myself in “I have a right to be mad” situations. I have to let them go and just remove myself from the situation. I have to let people be who they are going to be and not try to interfere even if I don’t like what they are doing. I also have to make hard decisions about whether or not I can handle having contact with certain people. If I tend to have a high level of anxiety when I’m around them, I know eventually that relationship is going to become too much for me. I need to let it go no matter how much I care for them. It’s best for the both of us.
There are several steps in this program that are about accepting reality. Step 1 is about accepting the reality that I have an addiction or an unmanageable problem. Step 4 is about accepting and writing down who and what I am. Step 6 just takes it another step and asks us to be willing to be changed. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when there are payoffs to certain behaviors. But, bitter taste is nothing compared to spiritually dying.